(Headline USA) Federal prosecutors, who initially said there was “strong evidence” that the people who entered the Capitol last week aimed to “capture and assassinate elected officials,” backed away from the allegation.
The head of the investigation cautioned Friday that the probe is still in its early stages and there was no “direct evidence” of such intentions.
The accusation came in a court filing by prosecutors late Thursday in Phoenix in the case against Jacob Chansley, the Arizona man who took part in the insurrection while sporting face paint, no shirt and a furry hat with horns.
“Strong evidence, including Chansley’s own words and actions at the Capitol, supports that the intent of the Capitol rioters was to capture and assassinate elected officials in the United States Government,” a prosecutor wrote in a memo urging the judge to keep Chansley behind bars.
But at a hearing for Chansley later in the day in Phoenix, another prosecutor, Todd Allison, struck the line from the memo.
Allison said the statement may very well end up being appropriate at Chansley’s trial, but said prosecutors didn’t want to mislead the court and don’t have to rely on the stricken statement to argue that he should remain in jail.
Ultimately, a judge on Friday ordered Chansley to be jailed until his trial.
Earlier on Friday, Michael Sherwin, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, backed away from the assassination claims, saying they have “no direct evidence at this point of kill, capture teams.”
Sherwin said there appears to have been confusion among some prosecutors in part because of the complexity of the investigation and number of people involved.
Prosecutors raised a similar prospect Thursday in the case of a former Air Force officer who they alleged carried plastic zip-tie handcuffs because he intended “to take hostages.”
The sprawling investigation involves multiple cities and jurisdictions, in part because so many of the rioters simply went home; only 13 were arrested in the moments after the building was cleared.
The FBI has been investigating whether any of the protesters had plotted to kidnap members of Congress and hold them hostage, focusing particularly on the men seen carrying plastic zip-tie handcuffs and pepper spray.
Although the assassination claim from the court filing was stricken by prosecutors, prosecutors didn’t back away from the statement that Chansley, when climbing up to the dais where Vice President Mike Pence had been presiding moments earlier, wrote a note to Pence that said: “It’s only a matter of time, justice is coming.”
Pence and congressional leaders had been ushered out of the chamber by the Secret Service and U.S. Capitol Police shortly before the rioters stormed into the room.
Chansley’s attorney, Gerald Williams, said he hasn’t seen any images of his client engaging in dangerous conduct while in the Capitol.
“He was merely there acting as a protester,” Williams said, pointing out that his client has no prior criminal history and agreed to talk to investigators.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press.